Bribery trial set to start

BROWNSVILLE — Beginning tomorrow, a jury consisting of residents in Nueces County will decide whether Cameron County Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre Jr. is guilty.

In October, a judge agreed with Yzaguirre’s defense attorneys that he would not get a fair trial in the Rio Grande Valley. So the trial was moved to Corpus Christi.

Yzaguirre was arrested last January during a raid conducted by federal and state officials.

The investigation grew to involve the Texas Department of Public Safety-Criminal Investigations Division, the Texas Rangers, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the DEA, Homeland Security and the Brownsville Police Department.

In the aftermath, Yzaguirre was charged with 11 counts of abuse of official capacity, 10 counts of bribery, one count of engaging in organized criminal activity and one count of official oppression.

In a probable cause affidavit, DPS Special Agent Rene Olivarez described the undercover operation that led to the arrest.

“The CI (cooperating individual) was to make contact with the elected Cameron County Tax Assessor Collector Tony Yzaguirre … The CI would request Yzaguirre to facilitate the registration of three vehicles,” the affidavit states.

On Sept. 14, 2015, the informant entered the tax office and waited for Yzaguirre to arrive. Before they discussed the registration of the three vehicles, which were obtained from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles beforehand, Yzaguirre had Garza search the CI for a wire or recording device, according to the CI.

“Upon Sgt. Garza meeting the CI, the CI was hugged by Sgt. Garza. Yzaguirre then instructed Sgt. Garza to find the wire. … Yzaguirre then stated the reason the hug was invented by the compadres was for these reasons,” the affidavit states.

According to the affidavit, Garza and Yzaguirre were unable to find a wire on the informant, who paid $819.75 for the vehicles’ registration.

The CI then grabbed an envelope from Yzaguirre’s desk and placed an additional $300 inside, the price for meeting with the tax assessor directly, the CI said.

Yzaguirre said the allegations made against him were politically motivated and unfounded attempts by Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz to benefit his then re-election campaign.

“My good name, my family and my staff have been tainted with the events of last week for the political benefit of District Attorney Luis Saenz,” Yzaguirre said at a news conference shortly following the arrest.

Saenz’s election campaign was successful, but so was that of Yzaguirre. Despite the allegations surrounding him, Yzaguirre defeated two write-in candidates and earned approximately 75 percent of the vote.

Yzaguirre has been on paid administrative leave since last year and cannot resume work at the Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office until the case is settled. He is earning approximately $86,230, according to a salary survey by the Texas Association of Counties.

The trial begins at 9 a.m. tomorrow on the fifth floor of the Nueces County Courthouse.